That Staggers / Clegg interview in full

by Stephen Tall on May 30, 2009

This week’s New Statesman has an in-depth interview with Nick Clegg by James Macintyre – courtesy the Staggers, there’s a full transcript below, in which the Lib Dem leader confesses/proclaims he’d like to be Prime Minister, relates how Michael Howard and the Tories “kicked [the Ghurkas] in the face”, and admits that his GQ interview with Piers Morgan was perhaps the lowest point of his “bumpy first year”.

Nick Clegg:
… Certainly our membership figures have picked up for the first time in ages – we’ve had parliamentary Labour candidates defecting… It’s not necessarily people who say ‘oh Labour are not leftwing enough; it’s actually slightly different; it’s a lot of people who I think quite understandably – close friends of mine, members of my family feel the same – were so excited in 1997 about the possibility of change after all those years of a sort of clapped out, hollowed out Tory government, and were so excited about the prospect of kind of change and progress, reform and something different, and they kind of stuck through it through thick and thin, and they seem to be really up now for doing something different.

New Statesman:
Just starting with the immediate situation then we’ll go broader: it’s been a big period for you, sort of man of the moment in British politics ? –

NC:
Don’t feel like that!

NS:
You don’t?

NC:
Well I’m on a crowded train…

NS:
And you’re not in first class!

NC:
I think with a very few exceptions I’ve travelled everywhere in Standard. Last week I did and interview with I think James Landale and the train company came and said they wouldn’t allow us to do it and we had to go into first and then there was a thing in the Indy saying ‘Oh he was in first’ and you know!

NS:
It’s obviously a bad time for established Westminster politics generally but it is a good period for the Lib Dems at the moment?

NC:
I genuinely don’t see it in those terms, I really don’t, I think everyone knows people want to give politicians in suits a good kicking and I think that will count for us as much as anyone else. So I’ve never tried to pretend that there is a sort of one-upmanship game to be played or anything else. What I do think, and feel quite strongly about, is that I do think it ironically creates a sort of once in a generation chance to change the rules of the game altogether. And if anything my great fear now is that what you’ll get is that, having finally I think broken the logjam of conservative resistance to changing the House of Commons with expenses, I think my fear now is that what you’ll do is get a little bit of change on that, and you know it’s now pretty obvious we’ll now end this quaint myth that the House of Commons uniquely in British life can be judge and jury of its own affairs.

But if we don’t go further, we’re just storing up trouble for later. I mean the classic example is party funding. If we don’t sort out party funding there is just a scandal waiting to happen; you know completely unregulated, totally un-transparent way in which parties raise money. And by the way this affects all parties – we had trouble several years ago with some bloke who turns out to be a crook – so it would be a massive own goal if we sort out one bit of the system and actually leave what in many ways is even worse. You look at the Conservatives: they blocked the most recent attempts to get a cross-party agreement on party funding reform, yet we don’t even know how they funded their last election campaign. We don’t even know whether Ashcroft –

NS:
State funding –

NC:
Well hang on yeah I’ve got some ideas about what sort of state funding: I’m not sure the taxpayer wants to write a blank cheque – But I think individual voters; I’ve been very persuaded by what Helena Kennedy and her group came up with last year where basically you give voters a choice and they tick a box, and they tick another box – ‘ and I want to donate three quid to public funding to, maybe another party’ – so I think you have voter choice. But you know we’ve got this absurd situation where we’ve managed to clear up expenses, but Lord Ashcroft – we don’t even know if he pays full taxes in Britain. What we know ie he says he pays some taxes in Britain…So what worries me now, is some of us have sort of rattled the cage and all the rest of it, it’s been very very hard, been quite brutal and no doubt will make me unpopular but it was the right thing to do to break that log-jam –

NS:
Are you referring to the Speaker issue there?

NC:
Yeah the Speaker and just generally, I mean you know on expenses I’m not saying we come out smelling of roses but in terms of the record on reform – that fateful vote last July was blocked by Labour and Conservative MPs. Every single Liberal Democrat MP voted for change. And I sat down with Cameron, Brown, several weeks before this all blew up and I wrote to them both and I said to them the only way of sorting it out is by getting MPs out of the property game altogether…and Cameron didn’t want to do it, he just wanted to fiddle around, and Brown at the time was fixated by this daft idea of MEP style daily allowances. So if I have any frustration it is not one-upmanship, we’re not holier than though – absolutely not – it’s this incredibly frustration that a) we went on and on about it and people are now catching up and secondly, that we can’t afford to make the next mistake which is that we only pick off one little bit: the whole thing is rotten.

NS:
Was going to ask about that frustration, but also conversely there are some signs – including in Guardian today –

NC:
Didn’t see that.

NS:
It’s saying that the Cabinet is now debating some of the wider reforms that you’ve been calling for – including referendum on PR, elected second chamber and so on – are you optimistic that actually Brown –

NC:
Look the Liberal Democrats have been led up the garden path on electoral reform by both the establishment parties so many times, honestly: I’m not going to hold my breath. I’m certainly not going to hold my breath by the way with a Labour party, Labour government that is clearly on its knees, and losing moral authority by the day. The problem of course is that by leaving it so late – they’ve had twelve years, twelve years! – to do the progressive thing, which is to make parties more accountable, to get money out of politics – the problem is that anything they do now, even if I welcome it, will look like the desperate throw of the dice. That is the problem, that is what I find so frustrating about it: you know there are good people in the Labour party, good people, who believe in social progress, believe in civil liberties, believe in protecting the environment, believe in internationalism, believe in electoral reform. It is immensely frustrating: I think why oh why didn’t these people speak up five or six years ago when they had much more authority than they do now – and of course any change I will welcome – will always now be hobbled by the perception of well you’re doing it now. That is why a lot of people in the Labour party are looking to us because they are thinking ‘well hang on guys, where’s the conviction in this, or is it just convenience?’

NS:
On PR – one specific: it’s not just text book: it’s partly changing the culture – a million people determining results, rightwing media has such influence –

NC:
Yeah, exactly. It’s tail wagging dog. Under the present system, the kind of diversity of opinion around the country is completely obscured by this kind of salami slice where a few swing seats determine the outcome of elections. I mean the only thing I would say is that what is slightly changing on that is that even now in the big urban heartlands like Sheffield, and Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester, where in a sense the electoral debate had no effect because people just assumed that Labour would win, under whatever system: that is actually now changing, where we are now really, really threatening Labour in their own heartlands, where even under the old system it seems to me the stitch-up, the two-party stitch-up is changing: I think sometimes people have to be clear about what’s going on: the reason it has lasted as long as it has is because it serves vested interests. The Conservative and Labour parties are like vested interests in any walk of life: they protect their interests. They protect their interests, in exactly the same way they’ve stitched up what goes on in the House of Commons week in, week out for a long time.

NS:
Just briefly on the Speaker: amusing seeing MPs barracking you – the vast majority wanted him out –

NC:
[Laughs] – and all this pompous stuff from Brown about ‘Marvellous Speaker’ – between a nod and a wink –

NS:
Two things: do you accept you delivered the killer blow, and at what point did you realize he had to go?

NC:
Um, quite late actually, quite late on the Saturday night, before I said what I said on the Sunday morning. No look I didn’t take this decision lightly and I certainly didn’t do it with any malice: I actually quite like the guy, and I wrote to him, and he’s been genuinely kind to me: it’s just a –

NS:
Roadblock to reform?

NC:
Yeah, I mean all his virtues, suddenly became weaknesses. And his virtues were that he was a fantastic defender of the way things are, and they suddenly flipped – ‘flipped’ is a one of those words! – they suddenly flipped from being a strength to very serious weaknesses. And um I didn’t take it lightly, and I think it’s just stating the flaming obvious: you can’t have people who have been such dogged defenders of the old order being champions of the new one. Also I am constantly constantly constantly saying: changing the Speaker on it’s own isn’t going to change anything: it’s just a necessary first step. And you know of course he shouldn’t be a scapegoat for all these individual MPs who have in some cases done things which may be wrong, and in some cases may be downright illegal – I mean they are going to have their day of reckoning in the next few months, and you know some of them may end up in court.

NS:
You think?

NC:
Oh yeah. Well, I’m not a lawyer; I probably shouldn’t say that should I? I am assuming there might be a case to take criminal proceedings, for outright fraud. You know fraud is illegal. You need to prove intent and so on, which is difficult. But still, if it’s not down the legal route and if it’s not through the police, it will be through deselection. So you know a lot of MPs will have their day of reckoning. I just felt that given he represents the MPs, the heart of the machine needs to change.

NS:
Lib Dems have emerged relatively ok from it, but you said earlier you think all parties will be effected.

NC:
Yeah. I mean as far as I can make out so far, on the scale of revelations which make MPs look ridiculous or laughable or unwise, to outright crooked: most of what I’ve seen both in the press and what I’ve been told directly about Lib Dems, look on the ridiculous end.

But I’m not absolving mistakes: I made mistakes, you know, I charged money to the taxpayer for telephone calls I shouldn’t have done, and a number of MPs have paid back. They know, I’ve made it clear publicly and privately in person, that if any of them do anything that I think really crosses the line, then I will come down on them like a ton of bricks …and I don’t know, maybe there will be revelations which will be much more shocking than what we’ve heard so far, and I’m not absolving the revelations so far. I’m not saying that every Lib Dem MP has been wise or sensible, or even modest some of them: no, I can’t stress that enough. But so far I haven’t seen anything that is as outrageous frankly as the systematic flipping where basically a number of MPs from other parties have turned themselves from MPs into spivvy property speculators, and they just do it up and sell it on for a prophet: I might see that, I haven’t seen it so far. As I say I think we do have am incredible record for voting for reform and advocating reform, not just over the last few months but for several years. It’s in our DNA, we are a party for reform, it’s what we are in politics for.

NS:
Can you expand on “once in a generation chance to reform” – is that because of expenses?

NC:
Oh yeah. No look, it’s like you get these moments where suddenly these things which are normally considered to be luxury or marginal concerns, only the concerns of the chattering classes, where suddenly they become mainstream – like ID cards: suddenly they got the attention of the Daily Mail. Iraq – something that got the whole country horribly angry – something that we’ve been going on about for generations, which is international rule of law: I think this is one of those equivalent moments where you’re saying, over and over again it’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s not just members of the public: journalists seem surprised when I spell out just how much Parliament is completely under the thumb of government. It’s not the mother of all parliaments: it’s a eunuch parliament. It’s completely bereft of any ability to decide anything for itself. I don’t think people quite realise that people who are supposed to represent them in Parliament are totally usurped, totally usurped by unaccountable, secretive power, which is handed to them on a plate…it is unimaginably unfair, undemocratic and unhealthy. I was saying to Brown yesterday – although he obviously didn’t hear me – a system like that, it breeds arrogance, it breeds secrecy.

NS:
On these elections, are you worried that there will be really low turnout – record low turnout and indeed with the general election?

NC:
Obviously the risk is that there is such a profound sense of disgust that people just shrug their shoulder and say a plague on both their houses. Look I don’t know: the European elections tend to have a low turnout anyway; the local elections are the smallest set of local elections we’ve had for years – I think people are talking about these elections as if they were massive – remember they are a patchwork of local elections…and the European elections are kind of funny elections because there’s actually a cut in the overall number of MEPs so it’s going to be really difficult to – but obviously I hope not, I really hope not. I mean Heaven knows I know how flawed politics are and I know how flawed political parties are; I desperately want to change the system unless people vote. The combination of an economic recession, a political class which just seems to be up toits neck in Spanish practices – I probably shouldn’t put that for when my wife reads this! – and mass abstention by the public is just too awful to countenance. And that’s why I hope I hope I hope over the next what is it, couple of weeks, we’ll get a little bit of space, a little bit of time to say to people: ‘ok I know expenses is what everyone is quite rightly appalled by, and yes I want to talk about political reform as well but there are also other issues at stake in these elections which are really really important – they’re important to you, they’re important to everybody, they’re important to your family, and they are really important to progressive politics: you know this again – why do Labour not do anything as a party: why don’t they simply say to people – I can’t understand it, it’s not rocket science, it’s so simple – why can’t they say to people, of course the European Union does things which are daft – quite a lot of its institutions that doesn’t work, just like Westminster doesn’t work, just like your town hall sometimes doesn’t work – but you know you can’t deal with crime unless you deal with other countries, you can’t deal with climate change unless you deal with other countries, you can’t regulate these wretched bankers who got us into this mess unless you do it with other countries. It’s such a simple idea: that in a really dangerous world particularly for people who are vulnerable, particularly for people who are poor, particularly for people who are subject to the kind of wild gyrations of the Labour market, we’re stronger together, safer together, we’re greener together – it just you know…and my frustration with Labour that they haven’t made this simple progressive case, is matched I have to say by my utter utter dismay at the Tories. I mean what planet are they on? What planet are they on? They want to go now into bed with a bunch of serious serial nutters for a start. The only thing that William Hague has said about the biggest crisis for a generation is a speech about the virtues of the commonwealth –

NS:
And he’s ruled out the Euro forever.

NC:
yeah. And they are now lying to people, saying that they can help them make Britain safer, when they are not going to deal with international criminals.

NS:
We’ll talk about the Tories in one sec –

NC:
If we must.

NS:
Do you draw a distinction between apathy and alienation. Do you think it’s a myth that people don’t care.

NC:
Oh, I mean the biggest myth around is that somehow, really lazy self-serving myth is that politicians say to each other – ‘oh actually it’s the culture of contentment, everything’s fine and dandy’ – absolute rubbish. I do countless public meetings, I can’t remember how many I’ve done now as leader – 40 odd, maybe more, close to a hundred visits round the country and in this European campaign, I’ve done 44 visits in the course of a month or so – and you know completely unrehearsed, completely unorchestrated, anyone can turn up – and you know you don’t get 400 people on a dreary Thursday morning in you know one part of the country to the next really worked up about stuff if they are content. You’re quite right that people don’t believe that mainstream politics is delivering the answers, and of course they believe it even less now that they’ve seen that the whole political class seems to have its finger in the till. No that’s the big challenge, and that’s why without being apocalyptic about it, that’s why it’s a once in a generation opportunity: that’s why it’s so important to understand the magnitude of it, because it really is a sort of change or die moment. You know you either change and you change very profoundly, or you have in my view a series of hammer blows to what little is left of public confidence. As I say if it’s expenses today it’ll be party funding tomorrow. If it’s party funding tomorrow, it’ll be secrecy and patronage the next day. It’s mad that you have a totally anachronistic House of Lords which is inexplicable to have in the 21 st Century something like the House of Lords.

NS:
Last specific on these elections: how big a threat is the BNP?

NC:
Dunno. I got my first BNP leaflet at my house in Sheffield last week. Um, my experience is that you beat the BNP not actually by wringing your hands or nashing your teeth in the national press, but you get on the doorstep and you say these people don’t have answers. You know they can blind you with hate, they can provide you with a sense of grievance, but they won’t help you. You know we had a local byelection in Newcastle a few weeks ago where we were told they will sweep the board, BNP will sweep the board, and we absolutely clobbered them, and how did we do it? We didn’t go to the press…we literally went street by street. And what was the issue in that byelection? Housing. Housing was the big grievance and on a building site, the Liberal Democrat city council is building new affordable housing for the first time in 30 years in that city because we offered hope and we won. We had a byelection in my constituency in Sheffield, two weeks ago, we massively increased our party, but we did it by really just focusing on the answers. And the same on the European thing: you know you can go off on the sidelines, you can jump up and down but what answers are you going to give? Can I just give you a concrete example? It’s really really important to spell this out. HuessainOsman who was one of the bombers on 7 July was extradited from Rome to Britain within weeks of that, because of a measure which the Tories voted against. So-called Operation Kawala recently bust open a paedophile ring right across the whole of Europe – 28 countries, they arrested 90 people, half of them this country, they released 23 young girls from abuse – the Tories voted against the measures which made that possible. That’s the Tories, and we haven’t even got onto UKIP and the BNP. We haven’t even mentioned UKIP – I think UKIP is mad, but at least they’re honest – at least they are saying their agenda is to leave the EU, at least they are being straight about that. The Conservatives are sort of having their cake and eating it: they are saying weare going to pull out of mainstream European politics, and we are going to kind of somehow try and con you into thinking we can also deliver safety and better environment and you can’t do both, you’ve got to make choices, and that’s what David Cameron has got away with I think – because of course the Labour party has so many self-inflicted problems, Cameron’s done quite a lot of sort of clever rebranding – very Blairite personality politicians – people don’t ask him what choices they are going to make.

NS:
Media influence?

NC:
We are locked in a political culture where for generations people have been told there are two choices – either red or blue, red or blue, blue or red – and we’ve had generations of this…I think what is changing and I think it is partly because of the very regressive conservative things that the Labour government has done – a lot of Labour supporters say what is the difference: they say ‘so my party has sacrificed civil liberties, my party’s increasing inequality, my party has an illegal war with a rightwing Republican president, and not only that – partly with the recession and partly now this political crisis, people are thinking actually: hang on a minute…people might be a little bit more open to the message that of course we want to make which is hang on a minute: just stop and don’t let’s keep doing the same old thing – let’s do something different. And I think there is an opportunity – I don’t think it’ll be there forever but I think it’s there at the moment…

NS:
Just talking about opportunity – how confident are you about your result at the next general election.

NC:
Oh immensely. Immensely. I mean as I say I’m slightly more cautious as you probably heard about the European and locals – but oh I’m immensely optimistic.

NS:
What would be a good result?

NC:
Oh I mean I think it’s clear what is happening if you bring out at the political map that the seats we won were off the Conservatives, the majority of those in the south and south west, and what’s happened and this hasn’t happened overnight – this has happened for some time now – our growth is almost all at the cost of Labour, particularly in the urban heartland –

NS:
Despite the criticism of you that you have been aiming for Tory votes not Labour.

NC:
I’m always a bit nonplussed by this. I’m a progressive politician to my fingertips, I always have been, I’m an internationalist, I believe in political reform, people always make characterisations…something very dramatic is happenning on the ground in British politics that I don’t think is picked up in the London beltway which is that metropolitan Britain is increasingly Lib Dem Britain – the seven largest cities in this country, we run the majority of them. Sheffield – I mean who would have thought Sheffield Hallam would be run by the Liberal Democrats? I mean I am the only non Labour politician as far as the eye can see there and that is going to change. That is going to change. I am not going to be on my own for long. Newcastle – think about that, I just mentioned housing. How uplifting is that, after 30 years of Labour doing nothing on housing a Lib Dem council building good affordable new housing. Liverpool, Bristol, I hope hope hope we’ll be running that. So that’s a long way of saying that at a general election, yes of course we need to hold our nerve, hold our Mps in those areas where we’ve won in those Conservative areas in the past – by the way there are still a small number of Conservative seats that we can pick up below the radar – but the big change at the next general election will be a very significant advance of the Liberal Democrats at the cost of Labour. It’s not – it’s actually just appealing to Labour supporters and saying look if you kind of believe in the really basic important things that we do – fairness – you know who has made the case for a significant rebalancing of the tax system over a long period of time? It’s us, it’s Vince Cable, it’s myself. You know we’ve been going on for months about the outrageous and outlandish industrial scale avoidance that goes on in the tax system where private and corporate tax payers can avoid according the Government’s own estimates up to £40 billion in tax payments a year. We say hand that pack, pay for lower taxes for people on lower incomes, specifically we say that by closing the loopholes, making the top pay the fair share, you can make the threshold, the allowance, to £10,000 [?] and that means noone is paying a penny on income tax on the first £10,000 and that helps 4 million of the lowest paid. Why is the Labour government doing that? [bangs window] Why are they not doing that? And they say they might do it – they haven’t done it for 12 years. Look at something which I always think is under appreciated, under-reported. Read the report that Martin Narey did for the Liberal Democrats, for me which was published around the turn of the year, around December January time. I commissioned that from him actually the day after I became leader……………

NS:
Cameron – sometimes you’ve been compared, private school and so on – can you articulate how different you are either politically or personally?

NC:
No I really took a vow when I took this job that I am not going to get personal about my opponents: I can get tough, aggressive, all the rest of it,. But I just kind of – I tell you why you lose the wood from the trees – this isn’t the Gordon Dave Nick show, this should be and I’m now sounding pompous here – this is kind of about what you think makes the best kind of society, a clash of values. I genuinely don’t see it in personal terms.

But I don’t know I’ve always thought this – quite a lot of people was when I became leader, it always takes time, and you know I suspect that quite a lot of people won’t focus on who I am until a general election. But I am someone who clearly has completely different values to Cameron. You know I just maybe see it as so obvious I don’t spell it out – you know what I say about tax, my record on reform, and someone could actually look at my background: You know I didn’t spend my life hovering around the Westminster village – I’m a complete newcomer, I only arrived here in 2005. You know my politics – I was born a southerner and have always been in the north. He was a party apparatchik, I think did some basic PR stuff for a telly company then was back in politics again. You know I worked as a, I was a journalist for a while, for two years I managed development aid projects in the former Soviet Union, I was a trade negotiator, and the first time I did my time politics wasn’t even here, it was as an MEP so I think I got a completely different outlook. Completely different in where we come from in our constituencies. And also he clearly has absolutely no feel for the enormity of the task of changing politics – absolutely none at all. He hasn’t even changed the Conservatives.

NS:
Superficial?

NC:
Oh absolutely. How on earth can you say you want to change politics or change the expenses when you won’t even bother to tell people how you pay for a general election campaign. Lord Ashcroft doesn’t even pay taxes –

NS:
You’re into that –

NC:
I really am. It makes me really angry. I know it is going to be the next thing. I predict you – the next thing, we’ll have several more months of expenses, and the next big thing will be why on earth are we sleepwalking into turning our political system into the American political system where it is big money that counts. We can stop it. We can stop it now. We just only have to sign up to the thing that was on the table – the Haydon Philips reforms. Why won’t he sign up to that? Because he’s a classic protector of vested interests. He’s raking in the money, he wants to keep things as they are.

NS:
He’s a traditional Tory?

NC:
Of course he is. Of course he is. How you say you want to protect the environment, and then you say you are pulling out of the one bit of Europe that can help that and he is wittering on about then ends but not willing the means. He’s not serious.

NS:
And just on Brown – I know you don’t want to get into personalities, but with the Damian McBride emails, wasn’t the dark side if not of Brown at least of the Brown operation exposed? Briefing against each other and so on.

NC:
There is a long long tradition of very nasty machine politics in labour. And I think what you get when parties are in power for too long – you had it in the Tories – is you get a lot of young people who have completely forgotten that politics is about reaching out to people out there, because their own personal futures depend on trampling on the heads of people in their own parties and clambering up the greasy pole. And again that is what comes from a system which basically hands power on a plate, unqualified power, and you don’t even have to bother to make the case for the majority of the British people. Look at the Labour party now, look at my generation of Labour people – really clever people. But they don’t know how to talk like human beings! They use Labour party speak and I can’t understand them most of the time…Of course you get rot, you always get rot in politics, as you do anywhere, when you give people monopolies of power. It is a basic liberal insight – monopolies of power, really bad. They produce bad decisions, they produce at worst corruption, that is what comes from too much power, unqualified.

NS:
Last thing on Brown – do you think he’ll survive until the election?

NC:
My hunch is yes because the other options are no good. Look I arrived at the view quite a long time ago at the view that political parties cannot renew themselves while in power. I don’t think it’s ever happened; I don’t think it will happen. For all the obvious reasons – you really need to have a huge argument – a really huge barney – we did it. We went through a really rocky time a few tears ago, we had the Orange Book, debated all sorts of things. Parties go through that. But you can’t govern the country before you really work out who on earth you are as a party. And I think Labour has to go into opposition before it reinvents itself.

NS:
Really?

NC:
Oh yes. And I don’t think any leader can suddenly turn the tide.

NS:
Sorry – that is really interesting, so first of all you buy the idea that it can only renew in opposition and not in government, and secondly, you won’t be drawn, that’s not you saying the Tories are going to win the next election is it?

NC:
No! Quite the reverse, I think it is a really exciting time in politics. I mean look, you’re probably going to chuckle but I mean, I mean I want to be prime minister, not out of some weird sort of vanity, but because there is no point in me being leader of my party unless I want to actually get in a position to change stuff. But I want to change stuff not on the basis of the old rules; I want to change things so you really change the rules so they work in a different way. And I do think we are, potentially – and I don’t want to run away with things – but I do think we are potentially entering a phase of politics where what was previously thought were impossible are becoming possible.

And sorry yes as far as Labour is concerned I think, yeah I think they’ve got to soldier on to the end no doubt, but as I say I think they are hollowed out, they’ve got a lot of young people in there who are as I say careerist basically. And also, political parties are tribes, they are families – people sometimes misunderstand political parties – they are quite emotional things, it is a sort of family of affinity and whathappens I think when one individual takes a political party and dominates it and turns it upside-down and inside out like Thatcher did with the Conservatives and like Blair with Labour, and they do that almost against their better instincts – most of what Blair did with Labour was against the instincts of Labour – what happens is that after that individual leaves, what happens like night follows day is that there is a prolonged period of disorientation, a crisis of identity –that is what happened, it’s a crisis of identity.

NS:
Ghurkas –

NC:
It’s really really simple. The real unsung hero is a friend of mine called Peter Caroll who used to be the Liberal Democrat candidate down in Kent, who went with a load of Ghurkas down in Kent who went to see the local MP who was Michael Howard, and guess what Michael Howard told them? Well you can go and apply for asylum. The same man who stood up in the House of Commons saying oh I am on the side of the Ghurkas. The Tories completely and flatly rejected the rights of the Ghurkas. So not only was David Cameron a total Johnnie come lately on this – or Dave come lately to the campaign – but the campaign only started because the Tories were kicking them in the face. So I’ve never understood is it’s such a simple thing – it’s really simple moral issue, and the technicalities aren’t that complicated either. Now the Government is going to announce they’ll let them in – why oh why it took the campaign in the House of Commons, the magic of Joanna Lumley, countless protests – us going to the High Court to get them to do the right thing – I actually think personally it’s indicative of this loss of identity, this loss of, you know I think a party secure in its own identity would have reflexes which would kick in much more quickly. Instead it immediately becomes a sort of, it’s immediately snarled up with silly people at the Home Office who say oh we can’t afford this – when you should have a reflex.

NS:
How are you personally? Feeling strain? Young family?

NC:
Um, oh, well, Miriam and I are like any couple who’ve got small kids – you know we’ve got a seven year old, a five year old and a few month year old, and um you don’t sleep much, and you juggle stuff and you don’t see enough of each other, but I don’t honestly think we’re much different to lots of couples. I mean last night I was giving an award at a national event for Asian women of the year awards – amazing bunch of Asian women, done lots of things – and I just looked at all the young mum’s balancing things, and you have all the range of emotions from tiredness to guilt. You try and juggle it. I think the secret really is to be incredibly disciplined about your time – when you’re with your family nothing comes into that…And I’ll tell you a little story I haven’t told anyone just to illustrate that: Ming Campbell suddenly stood down, and the phone was going mad, you know are you going to stand, and to prove it was a surprise I was in the BBC studio half an hour before saying ‘oh no he’ll carry on for months’ and after a while I went home so I went home and my head was spinning and I though ‘what am I going to do next’ and I got in and my Miriam wasn’t back from work yet – she works full time – and my four year old – he was four then – the only thing he cared about was he wanted me to find his leopard – he had this little spotted leopard – and I spent half an hour looking under the sofa, under every box, drawer, under the bed, to find this leopard, and what’s so wonderful it it’s such a levelling experience. To a four year old all that counts is finding his leopard, so I think in a strange sort of way while of course it’s different…children have such a lovely way to take you completely out of themselves, and I think in a strange sort of way that’s healthy. But it’s time.

NS:
Looking back on time as leader, low point and high point?

NC:
[Laughs] I think I had quite a bumpy first year to be honest.

NS:
Would you say you’re growing into the job?

NC:
You do by definition don’t you – in any job – but it’s like Paddy Ashdown said rather pompously to me it’s like going into a little door into a secret garden: you never know what it feels like, but you do feel different, and of course particularly as a Lib Dem leader you know every week [sighs[ you’ve got this spectacle of men and women getting at you and you don’t have the kind of protection of the kind of despatch box and the protocol. But yeah you get into some cuts and scrapes along the way – probably some interviews which I probably would rather have not done [GQ].

NS:
Would you say you regret it?

NC:
No, I mean it wasn’t the greatest time, and also of course I realized immediately that everyone could have a good snigger and giggle at my expense and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Of course if you actually read it he’s interrupting and making up the numbers but there’s absolutely no point…so you learn those things and I’ve learnt it the hard way!

NS:
And my very last question is simply to sum up why you’re in politics in a relatively short answer because I know you need to get off the train.

NC:
Yeah, well the really simple answer is to do things differently. I really believe that we can be a fairer, a greener, a better country, if we snapped out of the old way of doing things – red blue red blue blue red – and that’s what I believe in and that’s why I’m in politics.